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Unless police observe suspicious activity on their own, an anonymous tip call to police is not enough to meet the reasonable suspicion standard to stop and search someone, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled in three cases. The high court’s reasoning allowed for the suppression of evidence deemed fruits of illegal searches in the three drug-offense cases. Two of the cases were consolidated for one appeal. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an anonymous tip to police that a person is carrying a gun is not enough to trigger the lawful “stop and frisk” search. In that case and these most recent cases from the state Supreme Court, the justices appear to be sending police a clear message that if they stop someone on the basis of an anonymous tip without witnessing any criminal activity afoot, anything obtained from the suspect will be suppressed. Justice Russell M. Nigro led the majority in both state decisions. The court was split in both cases, with Justices Ronald D. Castille and Sandra Schultz Newman dissenting each time. In Commonwealth v. Wimbush, PICS Case No. 00-0744 (Pa. April 17, 2000) Nigro, J.; Flaherty, C.J. concurring; Zappala, J. dissenting: Castille & Newman, JJ. dissenting — which was consolidated on appeal with Commonwealth v. White — and in Commonwealth v. Goodwin, PICS Case No. 00-0745 (Pa. April 17, 2000) Nigro, J.; Zappala & Flaherty, JJ. concurring; Castille & Newman, JJ. dissenting, two men and one woman now face drug charges with limited evidence to support their convictions. In reasoning out all three decisions, the high court relied heavily on the precedent set in the U.S. Supreme Court case Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325 110 S.Ct. 2412 (1990). In that case, the U.S. high court said if the anonymous tip provides information such as “future actions of third persons ordinarily not easily predicted,” then police corroboration of the tipster’s information could support a finding of reasonable suspicion. The stop in that case, the court ruled, was legal. In all three state cases, however, the high court said police did not have the requisite reasonable suspicion to stop the suspects because the tips did not predict the person’s future actions. “The White Court made clear that it was the police corroboration of the predictive aspects of the tip, and not the corroboration of facts existing at the time of the call, which provided police with the reasonable suspicion necessary to justify the stop,” Nigro wrote in Wimbush. “Here, however, the anonymous tip did not provide any predictive information, which would imply that the anonymous caller had a special familiarity with Wimbush’s affairs.” DRUG SEARCH On Feb. 13, 1993, a state trooper got an anonymous call that said a black man named Tony would be driving a white van with cocaine and marijuana inside on Piney Ridge Road. The caller gave the police officer the license plate number of the van, and when police checked the number, they saw that the van was registered to Anthony Wimbush. The state trooper called the local police in the county where Wimbush lived, and the local police said they suspected Wimbush of drug activity. The police staked out the area on Piney Ridge Road, and when they saw the van, they stopped it. While the stop was ongoing, one of the officers shined a flashlight on the floor and saw two bags of drugs. The officer seized the bags, which contained cocaine and marijuana, and read Wimbush his Miranda rights. After Wimbush authorized a search, the officers found more drugs. Wimbush was charged with drug possession and possession with the intent to deliver. His motion to suppress evidence was denied, and after a bench trial, he was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison. The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision, and Wimbush appealed. On July 12, 1994, a New Kensington police officer responded to an anonymous 911 call about possible drug activity in a nearby public housing complex. The caller said that a black male wearing a white shirt and white shorts would leave the complex carrying drugs and get onto a girl’s black bicycle. The officer went to the housing complex and saw the girl’s black bicycle outside. She then saw Lance White, wearing all white, leave and get on the bike. The cop stopped White and asked him about the tip call. She began to pat him down looking for weapons, when White ran from her. Another officer then saw White and ordered him to stop. As White began approaching the officer, he dropped a bag of 16 individually wrapped bags of crack cocaine. White was arrested to face various drug charges. His motion to suppress was denied, and after a bench trial, he was sentenced to 3 1/2 to 10 years in prison. The Superior Court affirmed the sentence, and White appealed. REASONABLE SUSPICION The issue before the high court was whether the stops in both instances were legal. The court said neither investigatory stop was. “Appellants argue that the investigatory detention they were subjected to was unconstitutional since the anonymous tip and other purported corroborating evidence did not create a reasonable suspicion that they were engaged in criminal activity,” Nigro wrote. “We agree.” Nigro cited two previous state decisions — Commonwealth v. Hawkins, 547 A.2d 1068 (Pa. 1997) and Commonwealth v. Jackson, 547 A.2d 571 (Pa. 1997) — in which the court ruled that an anonymous radio call is not enough to establish reasonable suspicion. The court also looked to Alabama v. White for guidance, in which the nation’s high court said an anonymous caller had to have an “intimate familiarity” with the alleged suspect’s affairs. Nigro said that in both cases, the police did not have reasonable suspicion as it is defined by caselaw. “The fact that the state police learned from local authorities that Wimbush was suspected of drug activity in his county did not corroborate that he was currently engaged in drug-related activity,” Nigro wrote. “The police saw no suspicious activity after it located the van and had no reason independent of the tip to believe that criminal activity was afoot.” The commonwealth argued that Wimbush was stopped because of a traffic violation. The trial court, however, had determined that the traffic violation was merely “a theory advanced to support the stop,” and the high court said it was bound by that credibility determination. In White’s case, the court said that although the caller’s description of White was correct and the caller’s description of what White would do was accurate, the police did not witness anything that would indicate that criminal activity was afoot. “The only basis for [the officer's] belief that a crime had been committed remained the information obtained from the uncorroborated tip that bore no indicia of reliability,” Nigro said. The court said under Jackson, the tip was not enough to establish reasonable suspicion. Nigro said that under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the caller did not provide adequate “insider information.” Chief Justice John P. Flaherty concurred in the majority’s opinion only to assert that he didn’t believe the constitutional issues in the case were properly raised. Castille, joined by Newman, said he believed the corroboration of the anonymous tips was sufficient in both cases. PINK BAG On Nov. 8, 1993, a state trooper received an anonymous call from a person who said a man named David Klink had a girlfriend who sold drugs to the man’s minor son. The caller said the woman sold drugs from her home and from work. The caller also said the woman always carried a quarter pound of marijuana in a pink bag, that she took a one-hour lunch break at around 12:15 and that she drove a blue Mustang. The tipster gave the license number of the car and described what the woman was wearing that day. The trooper had arrested Klink’s son a few months earlier, and the boy said he received drugs from a woman. The trooper also knew that Constance Goodwin, the woman the caller was describing, was Klink’s girlfriend. The trooper went to the parking garage and saw Goodwin leave and travel a few blocks. The woman matched the caller’s description. The police followed Goodwin for several blocks and then stopped her and told her that they had “information that she was transporting marijuana.” Goodwin consented to the search of her car, and when the troopers said they were going to search the pink bag, she said it contained drugs. The police found marijuana inside. The trooper then asked her if police could search her apartment, and she consented. The troopers then found more marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Goodwin was given her Miranda rights and she admitted that she sold drugs to Klink’s son. She was arrested and charged with the possession and selling of drugs. After a bench trial, she was found guilty and sentenced to 1 1/2 years in prison. On appeal, the Superior Court reversed, ruling that the evidence inside the pink bag should have been suppressed. The court remanded the case for a new trial. The court affirmed the sentence on the charges of the drug sale. Only those charges were the subject of the instant appeal. “Goodwin argues that the investigatory detention she was subjected to was invalid since the anonymous tip and other purported corroborating evidence did not create a reasonable suspicion that she was engaged in criminal activity,” Nigro wrote. “We agree.” Nigro also relied on Jackson and Hawkins in Goodwin’s case. “As Jackson and Hawkins make clear, an anonymous tip alone, given its unreliability, is insufficient to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot,” Nigro wrote. “Thus, the police needed ‘something more’ than just the anonymous tip to justify conducting an investigatory stop of Goodwin.” “The police, however, saw no unusual activity while they watched Goodwin and had no reason independent of the anonymous tip to suspect that criminal activity was afoot.” The commonwealth argued that the anonymous caller provided intimate information about Goodwin’s future activities and the stop was therefore justified. The court, however, said Alabama v. White was distinguishable. “Unlike the tip in Alabama v. White, however, the tip in the instant matter did not predict behavior that showed a familiarity with Goodwin’s personal affairs,” Nigro wrote. “Anyone in Goodwin’s office building could have known what she was wearing that day, which kind of car she drove and where she parked it, and that she went to lunch around noon.” Goodwin argued to the high court that the statement she made to police about selling drugs should have been suppressed because it was coerced. The commonwealth said the statements Goodwin made were independent of the unlawful stop. The court sided with Goodwin. “In sum, since the uncorroborated anonymous tip did not create the reasonable suspicion necessary to stop Goodwin for investigation, the statement regarding Goodwin’s involvement in the August drug transaction, which was a fruit of the illegal stop, must be suppressed,” Nigro wrote. “Thus, we reverse the decision of the Superior Court affirming the trial court’s denial of Goodwin’s motion to suppress the statement and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.” Justice Stephen A. Zappala, joined by Flaherty, concurred in the opinion and wrote separately to say although he disagreed with the majority’s U.S. Constitution analysis, he found the reasoning sound under the state constitution and therefore concurred in the result. Castille, again joined by Newman, said the majority “circumvented binding federal precedent” under Alabama v. White. “This decision protects our citizens against what the majority must conclude to be the ominous specter of having to answer a few questions posed by hard-pressed police; all it surrenders in exchange is the ability of law enforcement officers to do their jobs,” Castille wrote.

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